Trauma occurs when overwhelmingly stressful events undermine a person’s ability to cope.[1]

The term “complex trauma” describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature, and the wide-ranging, long-term impact of this exposure.[2]  Humans are ordinarily able to process the myriad stresses of everyday life, but when confronted with experiences so severe that they produce feelings of terror and helplessness, or with so many repeated small and large psychological cuts to a developing brain that it forms a deep wound,[3] a person’s ability to adapt to these stresses can become overwhelmed.  This is especially true for children, whose brains are still organizing and developing [4] and who have yet to establish their baseline equilibrium.[6]  Thus, even when a traumatic event is over, the effect on the child and the child's reaction to it is not.


Some examples of traumatic experiences include:


  • Being the victim of physical or sexual violence;

  • Witnessing violence in your family or neighborhood;

  • Living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem;

  • Experiencing extreme family hardship and disruption, such as the death or incarceration of a parent;

  • Living in poverty without reliable housing or food sources.


Childhood trauma is experienced by far too many children in the U.S. According to a study published in the journal Health Affairs, 48% of children have experienced at least one kind of trauma. Twenty-three percent have experienced two or more.vi Children in underserved communities are particularly likely to have experienced trauma.



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